This is the atheism book many will have been waiting for! Much as I admire the vigour and meticulous logic of Dawkins, Hitchens and co, much as I share their frustration that religion has for too long been too elevated from challenge, I have to concede one criticism: their books will most likely appear off-putting to 'the average believer'. Despite the laudable aim of encouraging people to think critically for themselves, a combative tone (scoffing at 'faith heads' and 'failed fundamentalists') ultimately blunts their power to convince. Essentially these are books for atheists, or people halfway there. They are not really books for the average believer.
This book is different. Unashamedly polite (but not nauseatingly so) and shorn of the convoluted scientific and philosophical terminology that can sometimes alienate more than it can enlighten, '50 reasons' succeeds in making a courteous yet thoroughly convincing case against religious belief. Harrison understands that if you are serious about wanting to convince a believer, then you absolutely cannot afford to neglect the task of connecting with them. People often forget that religious faith has pay-offs beyond the simple matter of truth. Merely hitting them over the head with reason and ridicule is doomed to fail.
Taking the form of short (6-8 page) answers to the 50 common reasons for believing in a god, each counter-argument is concise yet thorough. The reasons are well-chosen, and will be familiar to those of us who have ever debated religion - from the authenticity of scripture, to the question of how so many people can possibly be wrong about something for so long. Interestingly, Harrison also includes several less commonly heard reasons ("I am afraid of not believing" ... "Someone I trust told me that my god is real") which go some way to showing that his interest lies more broadly in offering fellow humans a hand up from irrational beliefs rather than just point-scoring and winning arguments.
Splitting the book into 50 digestible chapters makes each argument easy to pinpoint and turns the book into a valuable resource. However it is the tone that really marks this book out from the rest: sharp, effective reasoning delivered with a clear, conversational style. He bends over backwards to be respectful, but never so far that he becomes intellectually dishonest. This is by far the most appropriate atheism book I've come across for recommending to a believer. Worth reading for the atheist too, not only as a well-organised resource, but also as an example of a different - and potentially more productive - approach to debating with believers.
(Tip: Head over to the US site Amazon.com if you want to Look inside and see all 50 reasons listed in the contents)